Friday, 21 June 2013


Since 1950, 26 of the 63 Formula One seasons the championship-winning drivers had cars that were not the fastest.

This I found from my Rating System, which separates the driver from the car and rates them as individual performance elements that make up the combination. Exposing and reading the car-ratings without drivers changes quite a few commonly-held perceptions. Briefly, my System scores the fastest at 100.0, slower speeds being scored in increments of one decimal (0.1) upwards, that is, from 100.1, 100.2 and so on. As a rough guide: in 2012 the slowest cars, the HRTs rated at 103.1; that is 3.1% off-pace. This can be translated as 3.1 seconds per lap slower, or multiplied by 60 to equal 186 seconds, just over 3-minutes in a 60-lap race. A competitor rated at 100.1 would be only 0.1-second per lap slower than the top-rated one, or x 60 = 6-seconds in a 60-lap race.

Who were the drivers who scored championships in off-pace cars? Some of the drivers experienced more reliability than faster rivals; some enjoyed better-organised teams. Others benefitted from rival team drivers taking points from each other, as happened with McLaren in 2007 (Alonso and Hamilton), Williams in 1986 (Mansell and Piquet) and Lotus in 1973 (Peterson and Fittipaldi). Many of these 26 championships must have been won by exceptional drivers and outstanding performances, to have overcome their car-speed deficiencies.

For the first eight years 1950 to 1957, all the driver champions had the fastest cars. So Farina, Fangio and Ascari all enjoyed the fastest cars.

1958: this was that close-won, headline-grabbing, championship battle between two British drivers, Hawthorn and Moss, which went down to the wire with Hawthorn winning by a single point. Hawthorn’s car, the Ferrari 246 Dino which rated at 100.7 by my System, was a lot slower than Moss’s Vanwall’s which scored a car-rating of 100.2. Championship-winner Hawthorn’s Ferrari’s slowness was ‘overcome’ by the ridiculous points system then in force, in which drivers had to discard some races! The points allocation then was abstractly skewed. Hawthorn only won one race, Moss four times. Hawthorn did however drive extremely well, was very consistent and determined, and rated at his best driver-rating of 100.4 in 1958.

1962: It was in 1962 that the next drivers championship was won in an off-pace car, Graham Hill’s BRM P57/62. Commonly-held perceptions are that Clark’s innovative, monocoque Lotus-Climax 25 was the fastest car. I too believed this, until my Rating System showed otherwise. The BRM was generally considered to have been the next-fastest car. However the unheralded, traditional, tubular-framed Cooper-Climax T60 was actually the fastest car of 1962. By my System it rated at the ultimate100.0, while Hill’s BRM car-rated at 100.1 and Clark’s Lotus-Climax at 100.2. What disguised the Cooper-Climax’s true pace was that its drivers (Bruce McLaren and Tony Maggs), the ‘other half’ of the performance equation, were much slower than the Lotus and BRM drivers. The Cooper-Climax consequently only won once, at Monaco, and then only took the lead in the last few laps after Hill’s dominant BRM had retired.

Surtees - 1964 Champion
1964: this mixed season of high retirements among the front-running Lotus-Climax, Brabham-Climax and Ferrari cars, saw John Surtees win the championship in his Ferrari 158. This V8-engined Ferrari car-rated at a modest 100.6. Rivals Lotus-Climax and BRM both car-rated at 100.1, the Brabham-Climax at 100.2. Brilliant driver though he was, Surtees was fortunate in the unreliability of the Lotus and Brabham cars, the arbitrariness of the championship points system and the fact that Hill was a slower driver, for the BRM was the most reliable of the four top cars of 1964.

1969: this was the first of Stewart’s three Drivers Championships, and all were won in off-pace cars! Stewart’s Matra-Cosworth MS80 car-rated at 100.3 against the fastest car of the year, the Brabham-Cosworth BT26 at 100.0. With Ickx driving the Brabham-Cosworth, it was as fast as the Stewart/Matra-Cosworth combination, but the BT26 was not quite as reliable nor as consistent. The Tyrrell-run Matra team was too organised and Stewart was a superior, faster and more experienced driver, winning six races to Ickx’s two.

1971: Again Stewart won the drivers title in a car that was not the fastest; his Tyrrell-Cosworth 001-3 rated at 100.5 while the speed-superior BRM P160 was fastest at 100.0. The beautiful Tony Southgate-designed BRM was 0.5-second-per-lap faster than the Tyrrell (assuming for simplicity, a lap time of 100 seconds as at today’s Abu Dhabi). It was again a case of Stewart and his Tyrell team being too well-organised and competent. This was in contrast to the BRM team, whose owner Lord Stanley employed eight drivers to gain the most advertising exposure! This was at the expense of his overworked team, designer and the mostly unsettled drivers. Stewart scored six wins, the faster BRMs just two.

1972: this season was a close call between the championship-winning Fittipladi Lotus-Cosworth 72D car-rated at 100.1 and its faster rival car, the McLaren-Cosworth M19A rated at 100.0. The 0.1 difference in car speeds translates into just 0.1-second per lap of 100-seconds, or 6.0 seconds in a 60-lap race of 1hour 40 minutes. Fittipaldi was fortunate in that the McLaren’s full-time drivers Hulme and Revson were much slower than he was, enabling Fittipaldi’s Lotus-Cosworth to score five wins to the McLaren’s one. The Tyrrell-Cosworth 005-6 of Stewart that was Fittipaldi’s strongest rival, car-rated at 100.3 but won four races; Stewart did miss one race due to suffering an ulcer, which also helped Fittipaldi.

1973: this season really showed Stewart’s exceptional driver talent: his Tyrrell-Cosworth 005-6 car-rated at 100.6, and was slower than four other cars! The fastest was the late-appearing Brabham-Cosworth BT44 at 100.0, the Lotus-Cosworth 72D at 100.3, the Surtees-Cosworth TS14 at 100.4 and the older Brabham-Cosowrth BT42 at 100.5. The new BT44 Brabham-Cosworth can be discounted, only appearing in the last two races of the season; main rivals were the Peterson and Fittipaldi Lotus-Cosowrth 72Ds, these two drivers scored four and three wins respectively, thereby sharing/spreading their driver points. Stewart won five races and the title.

1974: Championship-winner Fittipaldi was asked, “Did you have the fastest car?” He said, “It’s difficult to say, but for sure we have the best team.’ By my System his McLaren-Cosworth M23B car-rated at 100.3. Three cars were faster, the Ferrari 312B3 and the Tyrrell-Cosworth 007 equal-rated at 100.0, and the March-Cosworth 741 at 100.1. Fittipaldi won three races, as did the Reutemann/Brabham-Cosworth BT44, car-rated at just 100.5, Peterson’s Lotus-Cosworth 72E at 100.8. The two Ferrari won three races, while the Scheckter Tyrrell-Cosworth won twice.

1975: most considered the beautiful, powerful, Ferrari 312T the fastest car as Lauda dominated the season with Regazzoni to win six times. Yet the 312T car-rated at only 100.4, being slower than the McLaren-Cosworth M23C at 100.0 and the new, privately owned and funded, Hesketh-Cosworth 308 which car-rated at 100.1. Lauda driver-rated at about half-a-second per lap faster than McLaren driver Fittipaldi and Hesketh driver Hunt, which more than made up the difference in the Ferrari car’s speed deficiency. The Ferrari team was also exceptionally well-run.

1977: Lauda won this year’s drivers championship for Ferrari in the sixth-fastest car and following his late-1976 Nurburgring crash and serious burn injuries! His Ferrari 312T2 car rated at 100.3, but six cars were faster: the Wolf-Cosworth WR1 at 100.0, the Lotus-Cosworth 78, Shadow-Cosworth DN8 and Surtees-Cosworth TS19 all at 100.1, and the McLaren-Cosworth M26 at 100.2. Lauda won only three times compared to the Andretti’s Lotus’s four, but Lauda scored six second places to the Andretti’s one.

Andretti’s 1978 Lotus-Cosworth 79
1978: this season was not clear-cut: championship-winner Andretti enjoyed the fastest car, the beautiful, ‘ground-effects’ Lotus-Cosworth 79, for all except one race, the Swedish GP. Here he was easily overtaken by Lauda’s ‘fancar’ Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46B which cruised to win by 34 seconds! After protests from the other teams, Brabham owner Benie Ecclestone withdrew this huge-downforce, ‘fan-suction’ car which never raced again. Andretti dominated the season with six wins, his Lotus-Cosworth 79 rated at 100.1 against the Brabham-Alfa Romeo fancar’s obvious top-rating of 100.0. The potential figure was probably even faster, for the Brabham drivers Lauda and Watson‘sandbagged’ pre-race and during the race, to disguise their cars’superiority.

For the rest of the 1978 season the Lotus’s closest rival cars were the ‘normal’ Brabham-Alfa Romeo 46C at 100.2 with two wins, and remarkably, the Reutemann Ferrari 312T2 and 312T3, both equal, car-rated at 100.9, but scoring four wins! Championships, wins and ratings often do not coincide, racing having so many facets.

1979: if ever a team’s professionalism and cohesiveness proved superior, it was this season. Ferrari 312T4 driver Jody Scheckter won the title with three wins and a car rated at 100.5. This was slower than four other cars. The Williams-Cosworth FW07 and the Brabham-Cosworth BT49 were fastest at 100.0, the Ligier-Cosworth JS11 and Tyrrell-Cosworth 009 at 100.4. Jones and Regazzoni won five races for Williams, Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve six for Ferrari. The Williams team were as yet not as competent all round and the cars not as reliable as the Ferraris.

1981: Piquet is a driver who does not receive his due recognition for sheer talent and speed. Piquet won the 1981 championship in a Brabham-Cosworth BT49 that was rated at 100.9. The fastest car was Prost’s Renault RE30 at 100.0 which also scored three wins, but retired too often (nine times to Piquet’s four) to benefit from its speed superiority. Two other cars were faster than Piquet’s Brabham, the Ligier-Matra JS17 car rated at 100.1 with two wins, and the Williams-Cosworth FW07 at 100.5 which scored four wins, two each to Reutemann and Jones.

Rosberg - 1982 Champion
1982: this closely-contested championship was won by Keke Rosberg with a single win and in a car that was slower than four others. Rosberg’s 3.0-litre, Williams-Cosworth FW08 car-rated at 100.5. The fastest car was the 1.5-litre, turbocharged, Renault RE30B rated at 100.0; the Ferrari 126C2 was at 100.2, and so was the earlier Williams-Cosworth FW07D used only in the season’s opening two races. The Brabham-BMW BT50 and the carbon-fibre chassised, McLaren-Cosworth MP4/1B were also faster than Rosberg’s Williams FW08 at 100.3. None of the season’s eleven winning drivers scored more than two wins each, in this, by far the closest, multi-car championship of all.

1983: this championship was very close between cars, Piquet’s Brabham-BMW BT 50 ranking third-fastest and rating at 100.2. The Ferrari 126C3 being fastest at 100.0, and surprisingly, the Alfa Romeo 183T next at 100.1. Piquet won three times, his closest rival, Prost’s Renault RE40 four. But Prost’s Renault car-rated at just 100.6 and also scored only two second places and a third, Piquet gaining more points through his three seconds and two third places. The Alfa Romeo turbo V8 lacked a driver fast enough to exploit its speed, Alfa Romeo’s number one de Cesaris running at a driver-rating of 100.7 against the ultimate 100.0 of Piquet and Prost.

1985: a close one this season between three cars. After dominating 1984 the McLaren-Porsche had faster rivals for 1985: the Ferrari 156/85 top, car-rated at 100.0 with the Lotus-Renault 97T at 100.1, while championship-winner Prost’s McLaren-Porsche rated at a close 100.2. Prost was a superior, faster driver than Senna /Lotus-Renault and Alboreto/Ferrari. This was a championship clearly won by the driver. Alain Prost..

1986: this championship was won, like 1958, thanks to the skewed arbitrariness of the official points system. Title-winner Prost’s 100.5 car-rated McLaren-Porsche won only four races, while Mansell’s 100.0-car-rated Williams-Honda won five times and team-mate Piquet’s Williams-Honda won four races. The Williams-Honda was clearly the fastest car all year. Two other cars were also faster than the McLaren-Porsche: the Ligier-Renault JS27 which equal, top-rated with the Williams-Hondas at 100.0, and the Lotus-Renault at 100.4. The Ligier drivers Arnoux and Lafitte were far too slow to win even a single race, the Senna/Lotus-Renault too unreliable, despite its speed and eight poles.

1989: this will be a contentious one according to my analysis and car ratings: championship-winner Prost’s McLaren-Honda MP4/5 was rated at 100.3 on my System, Honda-engine-favoured team-mate Senna’s McLaren-Honda at 100.0. Unknown to the McLaren team, Honda had supplied Senna with superior engines, yet despite his clear superiority over Prost in poles (13:2), wins (6:4) and sheer speed, the quirky and in my opinion, contentious championship points award went to Prost.

1991: like 1962, 1969, 1972, 1983 and 1985, the 1991 season was between three close-matched cars; championship-winner Senna’s McLaren-Honda MP4/6 at 100.1 and the high-tech Williams-Renault FW14 on 100.0 and the beautiful, new Jordan-Cosworth 191 at 100.1. Senna was just too good a driver and dominated to win seven races and scored eight poles. Williams-Renault driver Mansell scored five wins but suffered too many retirements.

1995: this championship was won by Michael Schumacher’s driver superiority. Schumacher’s Benetton-Renault car rated at 100.2 against the Hill Williams-Renault’s fastsest car-rating of 100.0. Schumacher and his team strategy were just too good, winning nine of the 17 races. Despite his faster car, Damon Hill only scored four wins. The Ferrari 412T2 car-rated at 100.2 was as fast as Schumacher’s Benetton-Renault, but drivers Berger and Alesi were too slow, managing only one win between them.

2001: in almost a carbon-copy of his driver superiority of 1995, Schumacher won the 2001 championship in his 100.2-rated Ferrari F2001. Two cars were faster, the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/16 fastest of all at 100.0, and the Williams-BMW FW23 at 100.1. Schumachers driver superiority and the Italian team’s impressive’, overall competence ensured an 11 pole and nine win domination! McLaren’s Hakkinen had slowed dramatically this season, from exhaustion and stress, he and team-mate Coulthard only winning twice each. Williams-BMW drivers Ralf Schumacher and Montoya were not experienced or fast enough to score more than their three and one win each.

2003: this time winner Michael Schumacher had almost the fastest car, his Ferrari F2003A rating at 100.1, slower than the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/17’s 100.0, and equal to the Williams-BMW FW 25 and the Renault R203 at 100.1. Michael Schumacher managed six wins and five poles to take the title. The closest rivals, the Ralf Schumacher and Montoya Williams-BMWs scored four wins, the McLaren-Mercedes only two and Renault one. Their young drivers (Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Raikkonen and veteran Coulthard) were just not fast enough to challenge Michael Schumacher consistently, and nor were their teams quite as competent as Ferrari was.

2004: this season the Schumacher/Ferrari ‘steamroller’ was utterly dominant, winning 13 races from 8 poles. Team-mate Barrichello won twice from four poles. And yet the Ferrari F2004 rated as only the second-fastest car at 100.1. The car that was faster was the generally unacknowledged BAR-Honda 006, which top-car- rated at 100.0. Many have and will disagree with my System’s car rating here. However perceptions of Ferrari’s utter dominance and superiority cloud the issue. Main reason is that the BAR-Honda team was led by the talented but yet inexperienced Jenson Button who driver rated at 100.4. Schumacher’s 100.0 driver-rating more than made-up the BAR-Honda’s 0.1 car advantage enjoyed by Button, to the tune of a comfortable 0.3%. Even Barrichello, driver-rated at 1002, had 0.1 in hand over the Button/BAR-Honda combination, and scored four poles and two wins to the one pole and no win for Button.

2005: with the Ferrari cars sidelined by an unexpected lack of speed, this season was opened to two new cars and a new young generation of star driver championship challengers: Alonso/Renault R25 and Raikkonen/ McLaren-Mercedes MP4/20. Alonso won the championship in his Renault car that rated at 100.2. He scored seven wins to equal Raikkonen’s seven! Their pole-setting was 5:6 in Raikkonen’s favour. The results indicate car equality, but analysis of the 19 races, in four of which Raikkonen’s McLaren was grid-penalised ten places each. Consequently he arguably lost at least one or two more wins, for the McLaren-Mercedes worked out as the fastest car at 100.0 rating. That is 0.2% faster than Alonso’s Renault.

2008: this was one of the closest-fought seasons of all; not as many cars vying for the championship as in 1982, but the four combinations that did were close-matched. Championship winner Hamilton’s McLaren-Mercedes MP4/23 car-rated at 100.4, and ranked only third fastest to the Ferrari F2008 at 100.0 and the BMW-Sauber F1.08 at 100.1. Hamilton won five races and set seven poles for McLaren, Massa six poles and six wins for Ferrari. Each scored two seconds, Hamilton three thirds to Massa’s two. Obviously close-matched results. But in my opinion, my ratings tell a fuller, more accurate comparative picture between combinations, cars and drivers than race results. Hamilton was slightly the superior driver to Massa.

2009: Button won the six of the first seven races to clinch the championship in what was initially the fastest car, the Honda-designed, Brawn-Mercedes. As the season progressed other teams adopted the Brawn-Mercedes’s rear-end, double-diffuser, aerodynamic configuration. Consequently the Red Bull-Renault became the season’s fastest car on average, to top-rate at 100.0, relegating the Brawn-Mercedes to 100.1. Button won no more races in the second half of the season, while Red Bull-Renault drivers Vettel and Webber scored five wins. Compared to Brawn-Mercedes’s other driver, Barichello’s two wins in the last half of the season, confirms the Red Bull-Renault car’s superiority, for Button and Barricchello were very evenly matched as drivers with the Red Bull-Renault pair of Vettel and Webber, all driver-rating at 100.3 to 100.4. So Button really did not win this championship in a slower car.

These 26 occasions of the 63 seasons since 1950 represent 41% when drivers won championships in cars that were not the fastest. That means that 59% of seasons were won by drivers who had the fastest cars.

However, as with all analyses of F1 racing, the complexities are such that each season requires careful and detailed study and explanation before, indeed if, any general conclusions can be drawn from this topic. For some idea of the several factors involved, see my previous blog-post “Dominant Drivers”. No direct driver comparisons can be drawn from this essay. For example, Piquet won the championship in 1981 with numerically the slowest car ever, his Brabham-Cosworth BT49 being rated at 100.9 versus the fastest, the turbo Renault at 100.0. However the bare figures do not tell all: his real rival was not the fastest-rated but unreliable Renault, but the Williams-Cosworth FW07 which rated at 100.5; this reduced Piquet’s Brabham-Cosworth’s disadvantage to just 0.4%, which is not so exceptional.

Five or six seasons’s titles were won by cars 0.5% off-pace (Rosberg/Williams similar situation to Piquet/Brabham in 1981) ; three at 0.4% including Piquet in 1981; six at 0.3% off; five at 0.2% and six or seven at just 0.1% off. My approximate figures here are based on measures against the strongest rival car as well as the mathematically fastest, as in the 1981 example.

While championships and race results provide some indication of driver and car comparison, in my opinion my Rating System is a more accurate assessment of inter-driver and inter-car comparison. Championships involve too many outside factors for too-close comparisons to be made.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.